Comparing the Effectiveness of Online and Face-to-Face Credit Recovery in Algebra I

Elaine Allensworth, University of Chicago
The Back on Track Study was designed to provide information for districts around the country faced with decisions about offering credit recovery course options.

Academic course failures during ninth grade are associated with notable declines in four-year graduation rates. To get back on track, students who fail classes need opportunities to recover credit.

This first brief from the Back on Track study compares educational outcomes through the second year of high school for Chicago Public School students who took an online credit recovery course and those who took a face-to-face credit recovery course.

Key Findings

  • Students found the online course more difficult and had more negative attitudes about mathematics than students in the face-to-face course.
  • Online course students had lower algebra assessment scores, grades, and credit recovery rates than face-to-face course students.
  • Longer-term academic outcomes were not significantly different for students in the online and face-to-face credit recovery courses.


The study results suggest that both online and face-to-face credit recovery courses allow students to recover credit, but these courses do not appear to change students’ generally low-performing trajectories. The authors conclude that continued improvement of online courses, particularly for highly at-risk students, is essential for fulfilling the great need for flexible alternatives for students whose futures depend on opportunities to get back on track in school.